A week after her claim that the Soviet army saved the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust in the Second World War sparked huge controversy, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova dug in her heels and lashed out at those she said were using the issue to distract from Moscow’s principal complaint about its war monuments being defaced.
At a briefing on November 9, Zakharova did not raise the issue herself but made her comments in response to questions about the controversy.
Her November 2 comments were condemned by the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, President Roumen Radev, the American Jewish Committee, the Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria and the majority partner in the Bulgarian government, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party.
When it was put to her that Radev had said that her comments were either a deep ignorance of history or were intended as a provocation, Zakharova responded by asking whether Radev had said nothing about the defacing of the Russian monuments in Bulgaria.
The original comments by Zakharova, in which she also effectively accused Bulgarians who defaced the monuments of “not knowing their own history” were prompted by the daubing on October 31 of an anti-Semitic slur on the Soviet Army monument in Sofia.
Responding to a further question at the November 9 briefing, Zakharova said that unfortunately, the Russian monuments were increasingly often defaced by vandals. “We understand that vandals exist everywhere, but we do not see an adequate reaction (on the part of Bulgarian authorities),” she said.
“This refers to the speed of bringing such cases to administrative or criminal punishment. We see that there is an increasing aggression towards these monuments by people who act outside the historic context, unlawfully if we take into account the outcome of the Nuremberg tribunal, and without appropriate reaction at state level,” Zakharova said.
“You see the polemic that started on this topic in Bulgarian media. Why, when we ask to protect our monuments – and the issue is protecting the memory of people, not stone, metal or carved letters, who gave their lives not conquering, but defending not even their own country, but a foreign one – and we do that in different ways, through negotiations, bilateral contacts, taking it out into the public space, we are not heard?”
She said that the entire discussion had show that there was an attempt “to take the discussion away from facts and a real assessment of the situation with the monuments towards a historical track”.
“Let the historical part be commented on by historians. We are talking about the need to have a respectful attitude towards the monuments of people who gave their lives to not only free, but defend the lives of nations and specific people from fascism and Nazism.”
Zakharova said that she had seen the response of the Russian Military History Society, referring to the claim by that society’s “scientific director” that the Russian foreign ministry claim about the Red Army having rescued the Bulgarian Jews was correct.
“I think that it is worth quoting it and bring it to the attention of Bulgarian media,” Zakharova said.
“We want to be heard so that monuments are maintained in proper condition, so that if they are in the future again subject to such aggression by vandals, that it prompts an appropriate reaction from official authorities,” she said.